Playing Catch-up…or is that ketchup?

Here’s our front lawn! A bit on the beige side!

As the heat wave and lack of rain continue, much of my time is spent dragging hoses and watering, watering, watering. I’m just trying to keep the potager and the 3 main flower gardens as healthy as I can, but the lawn and the rest of the gardens are on their own! This week the forecast is for record-breaking heat and rain is doubtful, so no relief in sight. Today our entire area is under an extreme heat advisory. It already feels like a sauna and it’s only 9 a.m.

Homemade ketchup is the best!

Garden work is done in the mornings as much as possible, and during the heat of the afternoon it’s time to work in the kitchen preserving the harvest. One of my favorite preserving is making ketchup. It takes most of a day to cook down the tomatoes, peppers and onions; run them through a food mill and then cook them again with a cheesecloth bag of spices until the mixture is reduced by half. The entire house smells SO GOOD! Staying nearby for frequent stirring is a must, so I snap beans, arrange bouquets, or whatever else I can do in the kitchen. Once it’s cooked down, the sugar and vinegar is added, which necessitates another cooking session to get it nice and thick again. Then it’s time to bottle, using many of the same old bottles that my grandmother and mother used, and that I’ve used for nearly 50 years. When was the last time you had “Hillbilly Cola” or “Palm Hill Cola?” The Pepsi bottles were added in much later years, found when we moved in but they come in handy.

The tomatoes are coming on at a furious pace, and even though I’m giving lots away there’s still plenty to can. This time it was tomato juice and diced tomatoes. Next up is marinara sauce, and maybe I’ll oven roast/dry a batch or two of cherry tomatoes even though we still have some left from last year’s preserving.

I spent one day at my mother’s freezing sweet corn for her freezer. That brought back lots of memories when the two of us and my paternal grandmother used to do corn together. No one could cut corn off a cob faster than Grandma Miller. She was a whiz with a knife! And no, I don’t bother to grow sweet corn. Our area is famous for growing fantastic corn…field corn, popcorn, and the sweetest, best sweet corn ever! So, I let the experts grow it and save my space for crops that don’t attract so many raccoons! Another day I canned sweet pickles and pickled beets. Yet another day, elderberry jelly was made and pepper strips were frozen.

A typical day’s harvest…

Still, the produce comes in faster than we can eat it, or than I can process it. It’s amazing how much my little potager can bring forth. D keeps telling me I should grow less, and for the first time I am actually considering turning a couple of beds over to flowers next year. We just don’t need so many tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and summer squash so I’ll cut back on those.

Meanwhile, I’m falling way behind on deadheading which means there will be lots of thinning out of volunteer seedlings at some point, although maybe the birds will eat the majority of the seeds and it won’t be a problem. A gardener can hope! And one of the great mysteries of life is how weeds can grow and thrive without rain. I see lots of weeds, but they are SO hard to pull in the dry, hard soil. Definitely should have put on more mulch last spring. The lavandins need shearing, and it’s past time to do a search and destroy mission on the squash and pumpkin leaves. Lots of catching up to do, but I’m trying to be prudent and not overdo in the heat. Wherever you are, be safe, be healthy, and most of all be happy! Enjoy those flowers and the summer bounty. Despite the current heat, frost will soon be on the way!

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Six on Saturday: Aug 14

The goldfinches are getting an early start!

It’s yet another Saturday, hazy from the western wildfires all the way here to Indiana! It’s been hot and humid, with hardly any rain still but somehow with the heavy morning dew the crops are managing. August is always an odd month, with parents and children adjusting to “back to school,” the weeks seeming to be pushing toward autumn but yet hanging onto summer, days certainly long enough to accomplish a lot but little energy to do it! The bounty of summer is flowing in from the potager, yet the gardener must be thinking about and planting not only fall crops, but the plan for next year. Amid all this, it’s important to take a few moments to enjoy the beauty around us, beginning with 1) the brilliant yellow goldfinches that are devouring the sunflower seeds long before they are close to ripe. As much as I hate to see the sunflowers in tatters, I’m happy to see a healthy goldfinch enjoying it as much as I do. You may not be aware, but here in Indiana the Department of Natural Resources has issued a plea for residents NOT to put food in bird feeders. This is to avoid birds congregating together, to try to stop a highly contagious disease that is killing hundreds of our songbirds. It’s a sad, sad situation. Since many birds are accustomed to simply gorging themselves at a well-stocked feeder, which no longer has food they are having to forage…some for the first time in their lives. Could you manage? So, I’m happy to donate my sunflowers to the cause!

Only the sixth swallowtail spotted this season!

2) Normally, the dill and parsley are covered in swallowtail caterpillars throughout the summer. This year, I’ve seen nary a one! No sprays or pesticides are used on our property, no herbicides and I’m exceedingly careful with even Bt and soap spray. However, there seems to be an increased use in spraying by airplanes in the surrounding fields, which has even led me to stop eating the wonderful “Sun Sugar” tomatoes straight from the bush as I garden. Now EVERYTHING must come into the kitchen and be washed first. I wish I could wash all the flowers before the bees, birds, and butterflies ate them, too…

Can you guess what this is?

3) I’m willing to share most of the seeds that develop in my gardens with the birds, but some are harvested for our use as well. Last year’s crop of cutting celery returned this spring (as usual for a biennial) and we enjoyed the first, early leaves in soups and salads. As soon as the bloom stalks formed (like parsley) the leaves get tough and bitter so we no longer harvest them. I DO use many of the stalks as filler in bouquets all through May to mid-July. Once the seeds begin to form the plants are left alone until the seeds turn brown, and I observe the birds helping themselves. Then it’s time to harvest the tiny seeds to refill the jar marked “Celery seed” in the pantry. Yes, most “celery seed” sold in stores is actually either cutting celery or smallage!


4) Didn’t even notice until I uploaded this photo that I goofed again! I’ve continued to collect seeds for next year’s gardens throughout the growing season, and I can only hope I did a better job most days than I obviously did yesterday. Look closely and you’ll see that BOTH envelopes are labeled “Feverfew Gold Moss.” Well, one of them is actually “Perennial Blue Flax!” I’ll be able to tell by the feel of the seeds and correct it, because the flax is little hard balls and the feverfew is dust, but I certainly had to laugh at myself.

Way too much for an envelope!

5) You may recognize these dry stalks with numerous little brown balls. Yes, it’s coriander seed. Plenty were left in the potager’s interior border to reseed a crop of cilantro for this fall, and very likely another in spring as some will germinate quickly, and some will dawdle. However, there was just TOO much seed to allow them all to remain, and too many for envelopes so I pushed them into a paper bag to finish drying. Some will be ground for a pantry jar, some will be packaged and sold at the garden club plant sale next spring, and some will be seeded in pots for that same sale. The rest will become bird feed, hung out a sprig here and there, to prevent congregating by the birds.

Today’s bucket of flowers.

6) and finally, the bucket of flowers picked yesterday and conditioned in the cool basement, ready to become two bouquets to go along with give-away produce this afternoon. Notice the “blue” asters, which actually look pretty blue in the photo but in reality are more purple. It’s a variety called “Bonita Blue” which grow as a cluster of 2″ flowers on a single stalk. Looks like it will be a one-cut, but that’s okay, and it’s an annual growing to 3′ tall. I’ll keep one stem to see how long its vase life is. The other experiment for this week is using fragrant “Mandarin Orange” balm as a filler. It’s a more rampant grower than I expected, but if it holds up well in a vase I won’t mind as much and will harvest it more heavily.

That’s the six things for this Saturday. If you’d like to see what’s on other gardeners’ minds and in their gardens, visit The Propagator, who hosts this meme.

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From the Cutting Garden: Aug 5

First version…

Last week we invited guests for dinner, which called for a low floral arrangement that’s easy to talk across. I’d been thinking of experimenting with a couple of new “ingredients” so this was a great opportunity for some testing. None of my roses are long-stemmed enough for tall bouquets but for an arrangement in a bowl they are always my first choice, so that was the starting point. I also wanted to use some of my lisianthus, which although they are called “Apricot” are still very pink to my eyes. Many of my roses open with very orange tones, but often fade to more pink shades as they age, so I found two clusters of roses that were as “pink” as possible and put them with two stems of lisianthus.

Every arrangement needs a “base” to build on, and for this one “Tiger Eye” sumac leaves were the starter. I’d never used them before, but the brilliant gold leaves and pink stems seemed a perfect choice. As I was picking those leaves, the blooming stems of talinum “Kingwood Gold” whispered that they wanted to be included. Those tiny pink/orange/red balls on airy stems are perfect in many uses. They are definitely a favorite of the fairies, and mine, too.

The last of the feverfew (for now, those that were cut back earlier will soon bloom again) and a few short stems of white larkspur (that’s just finishing up as well) were added, along with a small bloom stalk of “David” phlox to balance out the whites since there was not enough feverfew. At that point, I thought I was finished but as I set the table I decided it needed something.

“Black Knight” scabiosa was added…notice anything missing?

Thinking that it needed more contrast, I added the scabiosa with its dark, dark petals. It seemed to bring out the talinum a bit, but I thought maybe the sumac was distracting rather than enhancing, so out it came. After looking at it again and again as I began putting the meal together, it underwent a third revision.

The final version.

In the end, both the scabiosa and the sumac were included. I’d be interested in knowing which of the three versions you like best! It was fun to have guests again, as always and after they left, the bouquet was still there to enjoy. A week later, here’s what it looks like today.

An interesting experiment…

As expected since they were already fading when they were picked, the roses were the first to go. The scabiosa was next, although had it been picked a day earlier and “conditioned” overnight in the cool basement they probably would still look good today. The talinum is still holding on well. A few stems that were tangled with the roses came out when the roses were removed and not replaced, but there are enough stems of talinum remaining to fulfill the experiment. The larkspur and phlox would have benefited from conditioning as well, but they are still acceptable. The feverfew will hold up as long as it has water, and then can actually be dried. Lisianthus is well-known as a long-lasting cut flower, but having never grown it before I was not sure if the buds would open after being cut. The happy news is that one of the larger buds has opened and a fifth one is just beginning to unfurl. I doubt that any of the others will open, but I’ll give them the opportunity.

Exciting to me is the sumac, which looks just as fresh today as it did when picked, even without any conditioning. If I were a true flower farmer, I’d be planting some of those in my field today because with that bright color, interesting form, and durability they could be invaluable as filler.

It’s these fun experiments that keep me so interested in gardening and growing. Just as it is fun to try a new recipe with a new variety of vegetable that I’ve grown, it’s fascinating to “use” the flowers in bouquets and arrangements and learn which play well with others, which follow the rules, which hold up under pressure, and which are long-lasting. And aren’t we lucky to be able to photograph the results as a remembrance rather than having to keep a written log or card file?

Now, I’m off to the Cutting Garden to see what’s growing and begging to be used this week!

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July: Monthly review

If it looks a little dry, that’s because it IS!

Another month came to a close recently, but it seems barely noticed. That ritual of tearing off, or turning the calendar page to a new picture has been replaced by just a glance at the date on my phone that doesn’t seem to really register a change in months. Regardless, July has ended so it is time to look back on those 31 days in terms of the gardens. As you can see, the potager looks a bit dry despite my constant watering. We had no measurable rain except for 1/2″ on July 8. Drying winds and hot temperatures made it seem as though it never happened. We’ve had some impressive thunder, and black clouds that brought rain to neighboring areas, not here. Mother’s gardens, a bit over an hour away, have had plenty of rain!

A closer look at the photo shows what looks like lots of bare ground, but I assure the potager is fully planted. As soon as one crop comes out, another goes in. However, germination has been very slow and poor in some cases. It could be the heat, or cold well water but I assume fault, as some old seeds were intentionally planted just to use them up and also, a seed box was left in the Lady Cottage where temperatures rose much higher than is good for their health. Replanting has taken place and there are tiny, tiny babies too small to see in the photo in many beds. In all, twenty varieties were planted in July (lettuces, pumpkin, various beans, brussel sprouts, Wando peas, spinach and carrots.)

“Parisian” cukes have climbed over the top of the trellis! That’s never happened before.

Some of the heat-loving crops are thriving in this weather, as long as I provide enough water. These “Parisian” cucumbers have been thrilled with all this warmth, and have not only reached the top of the trellis as they usually do, but have grown an additional 4 feet and are now going across the top of trellis! They show no signs of slowing down, have not taken a break in production, and remain healthy (knock wood!)

I hate these pots!

Likewise, the “Juliet” grape tomatoes have climbed to the top of the Lady Cottage shed. This is their first year in this location. The past two years, they were in ceramic pots on either side of the potager’s front gate. This year, resin pots of a slightly larger size were used but as you can see, the tomato plants are already wilting despite a morning watering (photo taken about 11:30 a.m) and are requiring twice a day, or sometimes 3 times a day watering! And before you quick-minded gardeners ask…it’s the same brand of soil as always. Back to ceramic pots or big plastic pots next year!

Climbing to the top!

As soon as the garlic came out early in the month and an empty pea fence was available to move into that row, the French Horticultural beans went in. If you look closely, you’ll see three wooden posts added to extend the height of the pea fence. French Horticultural beans grow 5-6′ tall so they need that support. I use twine to create lines for climbing. The beans will grow until frost threatens, and then all the pods will be harvested at one picking. During shelling, they are sorted into “dried,” almost dried, or “green.” The dried ones go into jars. The others are measured into bags and frozen. They are similar to cannellini or borlotti beans and one of my most favorite, carefree crops to grow.

This is not good….

July brought a little more borer damage, but not as much as some years. This was the latest casualty, a “Sweet Reba” acorn squash. Fortunately the squashes were fully mature and ready to harvest anyway. Unfortunately, when I dissected the stems to destroy the borers, there were none! I need to research the life cycle of the squash borer, because if they have already left the plant, where are they now? Are they in the ground? Are they in a cocoon? Have they already changed and flown away? Good gardeners need to know these things. I didn’t wait on the other two plants that were already just beginning to wilt, and found 9 borers in one and 6 in the other. The squashes from those two plants will need to be used soon, because I don’t think they are mature enough to store well.

The harvest on July 31st.

Despite the lack of rain, the potager is producing record amounts. On the final day of July, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, summer squashes, blackberries, purple beans, beets, a 5 lb. honeydew melon and two Minnesota Midget cantaloupes were harvested. The total harvest for the month was 261.5 pounds, most of which was given away, although we feasted on fresh fruits and vegetables at every meal!

Only 34 jars/packages were preserved because there is still an overflow on the shelves from last year, and the freezers are full. This month sauerkraut, peas, snow peas, pickles and beets were canned or frozen. That pretty well covers the potager, so we’ll take a quick look at some other gardens.

Not happy…..

The Front Garden is not too happy, and neither am I. We live in the country and have a well, which is a wonderful thing except when there is so little rain. The potager gets priority, and the other gardens just have to wait their turn. The Front Garden is a hot location because of all the brick and the sidewalk. Once the daylilies finished, it began to look a little bleak. Obviously, some tweaking and replacement of plants (both in position of some “old” and addition of some “new”) needs to take place soon. Definitely, many of the daylilies need to be lifted and divided as a starting point, and more perennials will be added so I don’t have to grow so many annuals as I age.

The Deck Garden needs more blue!

The Deck Garden seems to be faring a bit better than the Front Garden even though it faces south. It does get some shade from the old, old cottonwood trees part of the day. I’m really happy with the “Blue Bedder” salvia on the right, and will add a large planting to the left, in front of the gazebo for next year. The “Tiger Eye” sumac always brings a bright spot of color and makes me smile. Still too many Black-eyed Susans despite major editing, but at least they fill in the space until the roses get larger.

Potager Exterior Border, south half

The highlight of the PEB in July is always the “Blue River II” hibiscus with its dinner-plate sized flowers. Usually they are riddled with holes from the Japanese beetles, but I’ve found very few this year. After collecting buckets of them last year, that’s quite a welcome change. I like the echoing of the “Cupcake White” cosmos this year, and think that will happen again next year. Also very pleased with the “Inca” zinnias and “Durango” marigolds. And lastly for this post…

Loving the HEAT!

The Lavender Slope looks very different now at month’s end. The lavenders finished in June and the lavandins were gorgeous all of July, but are done blooming now and are ready to be sheared. Those baby lavenders planted earlier have doubled in size and have a lovely dark, dark bloom. Hopefully, they will make it through the winter! More posts are in the works that touch on the gardens not shown in this monthly review.

All in all, the numbers don’t lie….it was a good month for the potager and we’ve had some lovely evenings. The haze from western wildfires continues, and our hearts and prayers are with all those in harm’s way or are affected.

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From the Cutting Garden

This week’s selections…

The Cutting Garden has been a source of joy since spring, and continues to bring new surprises on a weekly basis. The abundance right now is amazing, so I thought you might enjoy seeing what’s in the cutting buckets this week. Of course, since my favorite colors are orange, apricots and yellows that’s the main color scheme in the Cutting Garden as well as all the flower borders, but it still surprises me with the range of subtle color shifts that can happen with various combinations. The “Madame Butterfly Bronze” snapdragons have been available for weeks, along with the “Coronation Gold” yarrow and the tall purple verbena bonariensis. More recently, the “Golden Jubilee” anise hyssop has been added to the mix, along with white yarrow and the brilliant orange balls of gomphrena. So here’s what’s new in the buckets this week!

Finally, a Lisianthus!

WAAAaaaayyy back on January 7th, the lisianthus seeds were sown in the basement. I have to say, I think these are THE slowest things I’ve ever grown in all my fifty plus years of gardening! Finally, this week the first blooms opened, and I have to say I think they were worth the long wait. Reputedly, lisianthus has an exceedingly long vase life, so I’m giving it a test. I love the color, and the stems are reasonably long.

The only thing that bothers me is the abundance of beautiful blooms that are possibly “lost” when the stem is cut for the first flower. You may not be able to see them, but there are 10 buds above the flower that’s ready to cut. Will any of them open? And, will that plant produce more stems, or is it a one and done? We’ll have to wait to see…..

Loving, loving, loving this flower!

The photo really doesn’t do this velvety dark beauty justice. This is Scabiosa “Black Knight” from Renee Shepherd seeds. The stems are very long, the blooms are two inches across and nearly black. Then above those black petals, tiny pinheads of white stick out.

Those little pinheads turn a pretty pale lavender. You really just need to see it in person. I’ve already decided I need scabiosa in “blue” and white next year, as well as “Black Knight” again.

Apricot statice….gotta have more!

Statice was a main crop on my first farm in southern Indiana, but I hadn’t grown it for several years. Then the rabbits ate most of my plants, but those that are left are doing quite well and providing lots of colorful “filler” for bouquets. Any that isn’t needed for bouquets is hung in the Lady Cottage to dry, along with the gold yarrow to the right, and the Spike Celosia to the left of the statice. Also in this photo is the first “David” phlox bloom picked for bouquets. I’m not thrilled with the vase life of phlox so far, but maybe I just need to learn the proper conditioning technique for it. Any clues?

My favorite zinnia “Queen Lime Orange”

The “Queen Lime Orange” zinnias have been ready to cut for a while, but I just couldn’t make myself remove any from the gardens, even the Cutting Garden!!! They are just so gorgeous and perfect. There are some slight variations in color and shading which make each one precious. Finally this week, there seem to be enough that I could part with a few, so some lucky people received them as gifts.

Not everything comes from the Cutting Garden!

Bouquets all need some kind of filler, and if that filler can also provide a lovely fragrance it gets major bonus points. Apple Mint is one of my favorites. It’s graceful white blooms hold well in the vase, so well that often I can hang them to dry for winter work after the bouquet has “passed.” The gray-green foliage has a lovely scent and also dries well, adding a softness to the bouquet appearance with the “fuzzy” leaves.

“Golden Jubilee” agastache…a double whammy!

Another valuable filler is “Golden Jubilee” agastache or golden anise hyssop. The gold foliage makes a bouquet pop, holds up well, and fills a vase quickly. The soft lavender spikes of fuzzy flowers provide a vertical element, and the fragrance is lovely. And the butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds love it.

So, that’s what’s in the vases this week, and probably for a few weeks to come. There are still a few new things coming on, which makes building bouquets fun and ever-interesting. I hope your gardens are filled with blooms and happiness!

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Rain is magic!

We finally got a bit!!!

It’s been strange to listen to the evening news week after week, with the “local” (that is Indianapolis, which is NOT local to us) weatherman bemoaning how wet the summer has been. Lakes in southern Indiana are at record levels for July because of heavy rains across central Indiana. The dams cannot be opened because the land in southern Indiana is super saturated and flooding would occur. A friend from my “old” neighborhood had 16″ of rain last month. However, my little spot of heaven on earth north of Indy has been DRY all summer. I’ve been dragging hoses and watering some part of the gardens or other almost daily. D will come home from exercise and report “It was pouring in Upland!” or back from a haircut with, “Raining cats and dogs in Muncie!” And I’m still dragging hoses. Just goes to show how even a slightly different location can have differing conditions. Happily, we recently received two small showers, which didn’t last long but did at least put something in the rain gauge…not quite half an inch altogether, but it’s amazing what a REAL rain can do compared to watering from the well.

The vines are beginning to form a canopy and plants are greener than before.

Science can explain how it happens, but to me it will always be magic. Plants that have been languishing in the extreme heat, relieved only by small doses of cold well water, suddenly explode with green color and rampant growth after a REAL rain. Immature cucumbers and squashes that have been hanging on the vine are suddenly ready to pick. It’s as if all the plants had vitamin booster shakes and a day at the spa, and are totally revitalized! The vines of melons, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes have been slowly climbing the trellises, but after that rain, I spent an entire morning adding twine lines and tying supports. Some of the vines grew 3′ in the two days following that rain! The rain also brought some slightly cooler temperatures, which allowed the tomatoes to begin to ripen fully and peppers looked like the fairies used an air compressor to inflate them overnight.

I almost forgot to take a photo before we ate it!

We’d had a few cherry tomatoes, but now the big “Polbig” tomatoes are coming on in abundance. The photo is of the first two, which aren’t as big as the ones ripening now. One became a very delicious balsamic bruschetta.

So very delicious!

I totally forgot in the “June monthly review” to mention the new obelisks, which are working out extremely well. One has two plants of “Tasty Green” cucumbers on it, and these have to be the most productive cucumbers I’ve ever planted. Yesterday one went into a big bowl of panzanella.

“Tasty Green” almost seedless, burpless cucumbers…

The melons are spread around all over the potager. Some climb on the metal trellises, two are on the second obelisk, and there are three succession plantings of “Minnesota Midget” cantaloupes growing on tomato cages. It’s one of my very favorite varieties, so sweet and productive and adorable. Some are baseball sized, and some are softball sized, and they mature in about 60 days from set-out plants.

There are five melons growing at ground level, just beginning to get their netting and ripen.

I began growing these “personal-sized” melons on tomato cages last year and it worked super well. Three plants that were started in the greenhouse were planted around the bottom and slowly trained and tied to the tomato cage support as soon as the ground was warm and danger of frost had passed. When the vines reached the top of the cage, they were pinched off to encourage the plant to begin ripening fruit. At the same time those plants went in, three seeds were planted around a second cage, and when those began to set fruit, a third set of three seeds were planted around yet another cage. That third planting happened just last week, and with the rain, the 3 baby seedlings have now emerged. Right now there are 10 melons ripening on the first cage, and the first one should be ready by the coming week’s end. That’s later than usual, but well water is cold, and our spring was a bit later than normal.

Before the rains came, all of the shallots and most of the onions were harvested. Here’s some of the larger “Parma” storage onions, all braided and hanging on the Lady Cottage wall. There are nine braids, with more to come.

The first of the storage onions are curing.

Loyal readers know how I love to grow cipollini, and this year’s crop was good, even though I had to grow “Gold Coin” rather than “Bianca” due to seed shortage. There was more variation in size. Some are 1″ in diameter, and some are 3″ across, but all have that flattened bulb and very sweet flavor. We love to par-boil them until they are almost tender, and then grill them. or I marinate them and can them for winter. This year, I’ve already braided some of the earliest crop to use over the winter as well.

There are three green baskets of cipollini ready to braid. The two woven baskets each contain a new variety of shallots…one did well, one did not!

As soon as the onions and cipollini were out, compost was added and new rows of beets, carrots, parsnips, and spinach were seeded. The fall planting of “Wando” (heat tolerant) peas also went into former allium space, just as the very last spring-planted “Green Arrow”pea plants came out. That pea fence was planted with “Orange Magic” winter squash. Other fences formerly holding peas have also been moved into allium space and French Horticultural beans were planted. With the rain, they are already twining around the fence!

The space where the “Green Arrow” peas were is now home to baby brussel sprout plants, so the potager is transitioning quite nicely. Soon the earliest “Royal Burgundy” beans will come out, and turnips will go into their place. The schedule goes on, crops in; crops out and we are enjoying each meal the potager provides and the variety of produce that changes almost weekly. I hope your garden has been blessed with rain as well. Happy growing!

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This week’s work

“Royal Velvet” lavender is done blooming.

This week has been hot, humid and hazy. The “hot and humid” is pretty typical for Indiana in mid-July, but the “hazy” is smoke from the western wildfires. That’s hard for me to fathom, but the faint trace of smoke is unmistakable and our local news reports that it is from the 83 raging wildfires, so it must be true. Regardless of the heat, there are tasks that need to be completed. First on this week’s list was pruning the lavenders, which have finished blooming. It’s important to prune just after the plants bloom so they don’t put a lot of energy into forming seed. Plus pruning too late can cause problems with overwintering. So, a morning was spent pruning each plant into a rounded form, and removing any weeds that were in the area. Here’s the plant afterwards.

A tidy new haircut!

I could have pruned them a little deeper, but since it’s so very hot I decided not to put any more stress on them. After that task, I decided I needed a job in the shade, so it was off to the Front Island.

The extended Front Island.

I love the viburnum in the center of the Front Island, and on impulse purchased another variety but that meant a six foot extension had to be dug on the east end. The shrub was planted, and then I just looked at it for a couple of days, debating on what to add to the new space. In the end, plants still on the “to be planted somewhere” bench were selected. First, a Ladies Mantle that I purchased way back at our May garden club plant sale went in. Then a few overcrowded daffodils from the Deck Garden were dug up and replanted here. And over those, leftover annuals were added. The end result was this.

White and gold certainly brighten the area.

I always seed too many coleus, because their seed is like dust. But, it seems they always find a home somewhere. I’m a late-to-appreciate convert to coleus, but once I discovered these “Gold Wizard” plants, and how easy they are from seed I became a huge fan. The real beauty of these plants is that they provide a blast of instant color from the moment they germinate until frost. And, their bright foliage brightens an area even when they aren’t in bloom. Even the reliable shasta daisies can’t do that! They work well in sun or shade, in borders or containers. Also into the area went a few leftover “Cupcake White” cosmos and some “Jasmine Scented” nicotiana. I don’t know if either will be happy under black walnuts, but if they are that’s great. Maybe they will even self-seed and return next year, but if they are not happy then I will have learned something yet again, and that’s what makes gardening extra fun, isn’t it? A good watering-in and a tidy layer of mulch completed this project.

Definitely NOT tidy!

Moving on to a project that definitely needed doing, and with mulch still on the truck, it was past time to tackle the black currants and gooseberries. The currants still had the tomato cage and mesh to deter deer and rabbits which makes mowing and weeding impossible, and the weeds had them very shaded and crowded. This project was going to take a while, so some shade for the gardener was required. Here’s my set-up.

Portable shade!

An umbrella duct-taped to my favorite digging fork provides an easy-to-move portable shade structure. It makes a tremendous difference! After removing the mesh and cages, all the weeds were pulled within the row, and the weeds and grass trimmed along the row. Then a layer of cardboard was fitted between the plants, and mulch added. Now, some folks might just trim off the weeds rather than pull them before laying on cardboard, but I think that’s like sweeping dirt under the rug so I try to get out as many of the roots as I can. It definitely makes it a longer project, but I’ve found that short cuts often just don’t work out well.

All done! What a difference!

Gave them a good watering before the cardboard and mulch. The far end has two gooseberry plants, and then the blackberries begin. Once the six tubs of weeds were put in the woods (too many weed seeds to go into compost) and the tools put away, I gave myself a little reward.

Just a few ripe ones now, but lots more to come!

After watching the black raspberries along the woods wither, I’ve kept the blackberries watered and here’s the results…lots of big berries coming on. There was only a handful that were ripe, but I certainly felt fully justified in eating them after marking off the last job on this week’s list. And, it’s only FRIDAY! I’m sure I can find something to do…let’s see, there’s beans to pick, cucumbers to pickle, peas to harvest, bouquets to make, and new seedlings to water but that won’t take long. Maybe I’ll make some lemon verbena ice cream! Now that’s a big reward!

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Six on Saturday: July 17

Leek flower…10 days cut.

Welcome to this “Six on Saturday” post (amazingly halfway through July already!!!) from north central Indiana. Let’s begin with a promised report on using leek blossoms as a cut flower. As you may recall, I was skeptical about them mainly because of their membership in the smelly onion family. Would they emit an offensive odor that ruined the pleasure of a bouquet? The answer is “No, they are not smelly in a bouquet.” And, they are extremely long-lasting, although the lavender color did fade a bit. The interesting thing to me was that they turned the water purple…yes, purple! It looks black in the photo, but it’s definitely purple. The next day when it was replaced with fresh water, that water immediately turned purple as well. And I’ll warn you, when the purple water is poured out, it does have a sulphuric odor. I washed the vase each day before replacing the leek bloom, too. Ten days cut, the flower still looks pretty good and it’s still turning the water purple!

The first tomatoes of the season!

2) “Unicorn” cherry tomatoes were the first harvested in the 2021 season, just two days later than last year’s winner (which were “Sun Sugar”.) I don’t know when I’ve had such a beautiful, more abundant crop of green tomatoes, and they are all bigger than usual. Looks like I’d better find some more canning jars this summer!

3) Strawflowers “Apricot Shades”

Loving these colors!

I haven’t grown strawflowers for a number of years, but in expanding the varieties in the Cutting Garden this year they were included. You may recall that over half the plants were eaten by rabbits before the bunny fence was installed, but those that are left are doing wonderfully. I’ve harvested and wired 30 flowers so far. Not sure what I’ll do with them, the nigella pods, poppy pods and feverfew bundles that are hanging in the Lady Cottage, but I’m enjoying growing them and seeing the range of colors from nearly cream through soft apricot shades to a brighter orange. Seeds were from “Swallowtail.”

4) Celosia spicata “Orange”

It really IS a spicata!!!

I have to admit I really had doubts when I saw Celosia spicata “Orange” listed in the Swallowtail catalog. I’d only seen spicata in pale pink and purplish shades. I really expected it to turn out to be a plumosa, but I decided to give it a try. Happily, my doubts were unfounded and they really ARE spicata! They are just beginning to form blooms, so I’m interested to see how they turn out, but they are indeed orange as well, so they are welcome. Celosias are terrific cut flowers, and dry extremely well, holding their color and shape for years if kept dry and out of direct, strong light.


This is the first purple cauliflower I’ve ever grown, and I can’t wait to taste it! I must admit that not all of the eight plants in the potager are going to produce a lovely head like this one. Two have already bolted before really forming a head, and there’s no sign of anything forming in two more plants but I’ll be patient. The white “Majestic” cauliflower were beautiful, but finished a few weeks ago, so this purple variety is more than welcome.


6) The squash borers have arrived, and despite efforts to repel them, they’ve ruined two plants. I know it is very distasteful to have to deal with them, but if a gardener just throws the plants on the compost pile, or tosses them into the woods, the borers will likely complete their life cycle and return in greater numbers next year. So, whenever a plant is a lost cause, do take the time to dissect the stems and destroy the borers. Some will be large and easy to spot and squash. Some may be quite small and take some searching, but if you look for that black head and white body you’ll see them eventually. There were 7 of various sizes in this “Jaune de Vert” plant, and 9 in the neighboring “Ronde de Nice” squash. I’ll be keeping a closer watch on the “Fordhook,” “Sunburst,” and “Bossa Nova” varieties that at this point still seem okay. Happily, there is still enough time to tuck a couple more seeds in another potager bed for a late crop of summer squash.

So that’s the SOS for this week. I hope your gardens are thriving and that you are enjoying a great growing season! For more SOS posts, visit The Propagator who thought up this meme!.

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Shallots are in!

The shallot tops have fallen over.

Right on schedule, the shallots were ready to harvest. The tops were beginning to dry and had fallen over at the neck. A light tug on one resulted in an easy release from the soil, because the roots had begun to shrink as well. With rain in the forecast, it was time to bring them in. Harvesting shallots has to be one of the easiest and most satisfying of tasks. Four baskets were soon overflowing.

Some of the shallots were huge!

Big shallots are sometimes nice to cook with, but they are not good for planting since they are usually made up of segments and not one solid bulb. In my experience, they don’t store nearly as well either, so they are eaten or pickled within a few weeks. Right now, all the shallots are in single layers on trays in the Lady Cottage.

Shallots are drying a bit.

I’ll give them a few days to lose some moisture in the leaves, and then they will be braided and hung in the Lady Cottage.

A braid of shallots curing in the Cottage.

Meanwhile, the beans that were planted along the edge of the shallots are breathing a sigh of relief. They’d begun emerging, but only those that weren’t shaded by the shallots began growing well. Now the others can grow as well!

More beans will be popping through soon now that they can get some sun!

All of the rest of the shallot space was replanted within minutes of the harvest. Rows of carrots, beets, parsnips and beans will soon be emerging. That’s one of the keys to an abundant harvest in small spaces. Plus, I wanted to get the seeds in the ground before the rain came, and thankfully, it did come along with some cooler temperatures.

An “autumn” bouquet?

The cool, damp, overcast day must have inspired this bouquet, which “feels” like fall with it’s rust-colored quilled rudbeckia “Chim Chimnee,” a few lavender sprigs, and some small white feverfew. I’m going to enjoy a day indoors shelling peas, pickling cucumbers, and watching the Tour de France! How are you spending your Friday?

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June: Monthly review

The “olive drab” of summer is coming early this year.

June has finished, and although the gardener was often distracted by family matters, the garden carried on and charged ahead. Plants have nearly reached the top of the trellises and are spilling into paths. The daylilies are in full bloom mode and deadheading has been impossible to maintain. Just keeping things harvested and preserved has kept one busy. And there is still planting of annuals to continue, as the daffodil foliage disappears and provides space.

The lilies provide perfume for any visitors!

We’ll begin a brief tour with the Front Garden, where the “Durango” marigolds have filled out, the iris foliage has been trimmed and cleaned, and the daylilies are competing with the Oriental lilies for best of show. One disappointment…a new daylily planted last year that I was very excited about was supposed to be “Persimmon,” a deep orange, huge spider but when it bloomed, it was a watered-out pinkish lavender. I hate it when that happens…

That feverfew still looks great!

The Front Island continues with its yellow and white theme. You may notice that the big allium seed balls are finally missing. They were beginning to lean, so I clipped them off and have them drying in the garage. Keep watching…they may be back soon! I’ve cut bunches of feverfew for drying, and it’s still going strong, as well as the reliable shasta daisies. There’s space in that empty front for a few colorful annuals as soon as I can get to it. And sadly, that iris in the front left is now three years old and still hasn’t bloomed?!? This garden does need watering, because we haven’t had much rain all month and the two big trees absorb whatever moisture there is. There were still plenty of flowers. According to the Bloom Journal 116 varieties came into bloom this month in the various gardens.

The potager toward the end of June.

The potager has required a lot of watering as well due to the combination of raised beds and dense planting, but things are doing remarkably well considering the dry, hot weather we’ve had (not as bad as the Pacific Northwest, etc. but hot for us for June!) Also, the thirteen new varieties added, as well as succession plantings of earlier crops all required watering until they were established and growing. The late strawberries were here and gone quickly, and the black raspberries are not even worth wading through the edges of the woods to pick, so dried up they are. The roses were a delight all month, and of course the Japanese beetles arrived at the very end of June as usual. Cucumbers, summer squash galore, kohlrabi, beets, lettuces, Napa cabbage, cabbage, bol choy, asparagus, snow peas, peas, strawberries, garlic scapes, onions, peppers, cauliflower, fava beans, celery and lots of herbs were on the menu in June. In total, 127.75 pounds of goodness was harvested from the potager. (95.75 in 2020)

I have to say that the “Baby Napa Cabbage,” the “Bossa Nova” summer squash and the “Biet Alpha” cucumbers have joined the “Green Arrow” peas as MUST HAVE crops. I was amazed at how quickly they all produced, and how MUCH they produce. All are so tasty, and have been very easy to grow. The “Reine de Glace” lettuce began forming beautiful heads, but bolted as soon as the heat hit. They are so pretty, I’ll give them another try in fall and also give them an earlier start next spring. Probably won’t grow “Spring” peas once this package of seed is used up…not as much return as “Green Arrow.”

Much of the food was eaten fresh, or given away but 41 packages/jars were preserved, the main things being strawberry jam and frozen peas and snow peas. And, bunches of mints were hung to dry for winter teas.

Channeling Julia! Where are my pearls?

A couple of events happened in June that were cause for celebrating with a special meal. For the first time Duck a l’orange was made, using lots of celery and thyme from the potager as a bed for the roasting duck. It was delicious, but I doubt I’ll ever go to the trouble of making it again!

A “French” bouquet for the centerpiece of roses, sweet peas, cutting celery and elderbloom. What a wonderful aroma!

The Cutting Garden is really filling in, and several bouquets were made and given away, and some were kept for our own home, including this “French” arrangement made for the duck dinner. The last of the plants were put in, so the garden is jam-packed now and picking a bouquet is easy with so much variety of color and texture. More feverfew, nigella pods and yarrow were cut and dried. Not a clue what I’ll do with them, but they won’t go to waste. Still haven’t cut the lavender, but it’s on the to-do list! The first ranunculus bloomed but were not even worth a photo…only about the size of a quarter and a coppery color…and only two!! The gomphrena, strawflowers, cosmos and dahlias have begun as well.

It’s getting to be a jungle in there…guess I need to cut more!!! (And weed the path!)

That’s June in a few paragraphs. It certainly flew by quickly, and was a busy month overall. The gardens continue to be such a blessing and a joy. Now, if we’d just get a little rain….

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